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which the publishers of this magazine days in their calendar to mark the arrival were in frequent communication with of a manuscript from George Eliot. her, they feel that it is due to their de- Not merely a great writer but a great parted friend to put on record some as- woman has passed away. In addition to pects of her character which they per- the spell which bound the world to her haps had better opportunities of discern- by her genius, she had a personal power ing than the other friends who met her of drawing to herself in ties of sympathy in society. George Eliot was the most and kindly feeling all who came under careful and accurate among authors. her influence. She never oppressed any Her beautifully written manuscript, free one by her talents ; she never allowed from blur or erasure, and with every let- any one to be sensible of the depth and ter delicately and distinctly finished, was variety of her scholarship ; she knew, as only the outward and visible sign of the few know, how to draw forth the views inward labor which she had taken to and feelings of her visitors, and to make work out her ideas. She never drew their sympathies her own. There was a any of her facts or impressions from sec- charm in her personal character which ond-hand ; and thus, in spite of the num- of itself was sufficient to conciliate deep ber and variety of her illustrations, she and lasting regard. Every one who enhad rarely much to correct in her proof- tered her society left it impressed with sheets. She had all that love of doing the conviction that they had been under her work well for the work's sake, which the influence of a sympathy and tendershe makes prominent characteristics of ness not less remarkable than the force “ Adam' Bede” and “Stradivarius." of her mental power. But attractive as Her grasp of business was not less strik- the theme would be to all who knew her, ing than her literary power ; and her it would be doing injustice to George shrewdness and foresight were such as Eliot's own feelings if we were to dwell are seldom to be met with. Anxious as upon her personal qualities. Her deep she always was to retain her hold on the and catholic love for Humanity in its public, she steadily shrank from receiv- broadest and best sense, which was in iting in her own person the homage which self the strongest quickening motive of her the world would have gladly paid to her genius, will maintain her influence in the genius. It was in her letters that she future as in the present. All too soon was most wont to open her heart; and has her eloquent prayer been granted : those who had the privilege of being
I join the choir invisible among her correspondents will sadly
Of those immortal dead who live again miss the thoughtful and tender notes In minds made better by their presence : live which entered so fully into the feelings In pulses stirred to generosity, and affairs of those to whom they were
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self, addressed. Her publishers cannot think
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like without a feeling of deep regret, that the many tokens of George Eliot's regard And with their mild persistence urge man's which were wont to come to them in the
search form of letters, are now at an end, and
To vaster issues." that there can be in future no red-letter
GEORGE ELIOT: A CRITICAL STUDY.
BY LESLIE STEPHEN.
Had we been asked, a few weeks ago, tion now would be to suggest some to name the greatest living writer of measure of our loss. In losing George English fiction, the answer would have Eliot we have probably lost the greatest been unanimous. No one-whatever woman who ever won literary fame, and might be his special personal predilec- one of the very few writers of our day tions--would have refused th title to to om
great'' could be George Eliot. To ask the same ques- conceded with any plausibility. We are not at a sufficient distance from the ob- through comparative failure, or to bend ject of our admiration to measure its their genius to unworthy tasks. So, of true elevation. We are liable to a double the great writers in her own special deillusion on the morrow of such events. partment, Fielding wasted his powers in In political life we fancy that all heroism writing third-rate plays till he was fiveis extinct with the dead leader, whilst and-thirty, and died a broken-down there are within the realm five hundred man at forty-seven. Scott did not apgood as he. Yet the most daring op- pear in the field of his greatest victories timist can hardly suppose that consola- till he was forty-three, and all his really tory creed to be generally true in litera- first-rate work was done within the next ture. If contemporaries sometimes ex- ten years. George Eliot's period of aggerate, they not unfrequently under- full activity, the time during which she estimate their loss. When Shakespeare was conscientiously doing her best under died, nobody imagined--we may suspect the stimulus of high reputation, lasted —that the English drama had touched some twenty years; and so long a space its highest point. When men are cross- is fully up to the average of the time aling the lines which divide one of the lowed to most great writers. If not a fruitful from one of the barren epochs voluminous writer, according to the in literature, they are often but faintly standard of recent novelists, she has conscious of the change. It would re- left enough work, representative of her quire no paradoxical ingenuity to main- powers at their best, to give a full imtain that we are even now going through press of her mind. such a transition. The works of George So far, I think, we have little reason Eliot may hereafter appear as marking for regret. When once a writer has manthe termination of the great period of aged to express the best that was in him English fiction which began with Scott. to say, the question of absolute mass is She may hereafter be regarded as the trilling. Though some very great have last great sovereign of a literary dynasty, also been very voluminous writers, the who had to bequeath her sceptre to a immortal part of their achievement comparatively petty line of successors ; bears a slight proportion to the whole. though--for anything that we can say to Goethe lived to a good old age, and the contrary-it may also be true that never lapsed into indolence ; yet all of the successor may appear to-morrow, or Goethe that is really of the highest exmay even be now amongst us in the cellence will go into some half dozen shape of some writer who is struggling volumes. Putting aside Scott, hardly against a general want of recognition. any great English writer has left a
Ephemeral critics must not pretend greater quantity of work representing to pronounce too confidently upon such the highest level of the author's capacquestions. They can only try to say, ity than is equivalent to the “ Scenes of in Mr. Browning's phrase, how it strikes Clerical Life,' “Adam Bede, the a contemporary. And a contemporary
And a contemporary “Mill on the Floss,' Silas Marner," is prompted by the natural regret to “Romola, and “ Middlemarch.' stray into irrelevant reflections, and Certainly, she might have done more. dwell needlessly in the region of might- She did not begin to write novels till a have-beens, Had George Eliot lived a period at which many popular authors little longer, or begun to write a little are already showing symptoms of exearlier, or been endowed with some ad- haustion, and indulging in the perilous ditional quality which she did not in practice of self-imitation. Why, it may fact possess, she might have done greater be said, did not George Eliot write imthings still. It is very true, and true mortal works in her youth, instead of of others besides George Eliot. It often translating German authors of a heteroseems as if even the greatest works of dox tendency ? If we could arrange all the greatest writers were but fragment such things to our taste, and could foreary waiss and strays—mere indications see a writer's powers from the beginof more splendid achievements which ning, we might have ordered matters would have been within their grasp, had differently. Yet one may observe that they not been forced, like weaker peo- there is another side to the question. ple, to feel out the way to success Imaginative minds often ripen quickly ; and much of the finest poetry in the where. They are not very common ; language derives its charm from the and there are a vast number of excellent freshness of youth. But writers of the fictions which these sensitive critics may contemplative order-those whose best study without the least danger of a works represent the general experience shock to their artistic sensibilities by of a rich and thoughtful nature-may be anything of the kind. But if you will expected to come later to their maturity. permit a poor novelist to indulge in such The phenomenon of early exhaustion is awkward possessions, I cannot see why too common in these days to allow us to he or she should not be allowed occaregret an occasional exception. If dur- sionally to interweave them in her narraing her youth George Eliot was storing tive, taking care of course to keep them the thoughts and emotions which af- in their proper place. Some of that manterward shaped themselves into the nerism which offends many critics rep"Scenes of Clerical Life,' we need not resents in fact simply George Eliot's suppose that the tiine was wasted. Cer- way of using this privilege. We are intainly, I do not think that any one who deed told dogmatically that a novelist has had a little experience in such mat- should never indulge in little asides to ters would regard it as otherwise than the reader. Why not? One main addangerous for a powerful mind to be vantage of a novel, as it seems to me, is precipitated into public utterance. The precisely that it leaves room for a freedom Pythagorean probation of silence may in such matters which is incompatible be protracted too long; but it may af- with the requirements, for example, of ford a most useful discipline : and I dramatic writing. I can enjoy Scott's think that there is nothing preposterous downright story-telling, which never rein the supposition that George Eliot's minds you obtrusively of the presence of work was all the more powerful because the author ; but with all respect for it came from a novelist who had lain Scott, I do not see why his manner fallow through a longer period than or- should be the sole type and model for all dinary.
his successors. I like to read about Tom If it is rather idle to pursue such Jones or Colonel Newcome ; but I am speculations, it is still more idle to in- also very glad when Fielding or Thackdulge in that kind of criticism which eray puts his puppets aside for the movirtually comes to saying that George ment and talks to me in his own person. Eliot ought to have been Walter Scott or A child, it is true, dislikes to have the Charlotte Brontë. You may think her illusion broken, and is angry if you try inferior to those writers ; you may dis- to persuade him that Giant Despair was like her philosophy or her character ; not a real personage like his favorite and you are fully justified in expressing Blunderbore. But the attempt to proyour dislike. But it is only fair to ask duce such illusions is really unworthy of whether the qualities which you disap- work intended for full-grown readers. prove were mere external and adventi- The humorist in particular knows that tious familiarities or the inseparable ad- you will not mistake his puppet-show junct of those which you admire. It is for reality, nor does he wish you to do important to remember this in consider- He is rather of opinion that the ing some of the common criticisms. world itself is a greater puppet-show, The poor woman was not content simply not to be taken in too desperate earnest. to write amusing stories. She is con- It is congenial to his whole mode of victed upon conclusive evidence of hav- thought to act occasionally as chorus, ing indulged in ideas; she ventured to and dwell upon some incidental suggesspeculate upon human life and its mean- tion. The solemn critic may step foring, and still worse, she endeavored to ward, like the physician who attended embody her convictions in imaginative Sancho Panza's meal, and waive aside shapes, and probably wished to infect the condiment which gives a peculiar her readers with them. This was, ac- relish to the feast. It is not prepared cording to some people, highly unbe- according to his recipe. But till he coming in a woman and very inartistic gives me some better reason for obediin a novelist. I confess that, for my ence than his ipse dixit, I shall refuse to part, I am rather glad to find ideas any respect what would destroy many charm
ing passages and obliterate touches which cial development left without any adeclearly contribute to the general effect quate interpreter. A second-rate writer of George Eliot's work.
can be more or less replaced. When Were it not indeed that some critics you have read Shakespeare you can do in authority have dwelt upon this sup- very well without Beaumont and Fletchposed delect, I should be disposed sim- er, and a study of the satires of Pope ply to plead "not guilty," for I think makes it unnecessary to plod through that any one who reads the earlier the many volumes filled by his imitators. books with the criticism in his mind, But we feel that, however much we may and notes the passages which are really admire the other great English novelobnoxious upon this ground, will be ists, there is none who would make the surprised at the rarity of the passages to 'study of George Eliot superfluous. The which it applies. One cannot help sus- sphere which she has made specially her pecting that what is really offensive is own is that quiet English country life not so much the method itself as the which she knew in early youth. It has substance of the reflections introduced, been described with more or less vivacand occasionally the cumbrous style in ity and sympathy by many observers. which they are expressed. And upon Nobody has approached George Eliot these points there is more to be said. in the power of seizing its essential But it is more desirable, if one can do characteristics and exhibiting its real it, to say what George Eliot was than charm. She has done for it what Scott what she was not; and to try to catch did for the Scotch peasantry, or Fieldthe secret of her unique power rathering for the eighteenth century Englishthan to dwell upon shortcomings, some man, or Thackeray for the higher social of which, to say the truth, are so obvi- stratum of his time. Its last traces are ous that it requires little critical acumen vanishing so rapidly amidst the changes to discover them, and a decided tinge of of modern revolution, that its picture antipathy to dwell upon them at length. could hardly be drawn again, even if
What is it, in fact, which makes us there were an artist of equal skill and conscious that George Eliot had a posi- penetration. And thus, when the name tion apart ; that, in a field where she of George Eliot is mentioned, it calls had so many competitors of no mean up, to me at least, and, I suspect, to capacity, she stands out as superior to most readers, not so much her later and all her rivals ; or that, while we can more ambitious works, as the exquisite easily imagine that many other reputa- series of scenes so lovingly and vividly tions will fade with a change of fashion, presented in the earlier stage : snuffy there is something in George Eliot which old Mr. Gilfil, drinking his gin-andwe are confident will give delight to our water in his lonely parlor, with his faithgrandchildren as it has to ourselves ? ful Ponto snoring on the rug and To such questions there is one obvious dreaming of the early romance of his answer at hand. There is one part of life ; and the inimitable Mrs. Poyser in her writings upon which every compe- her exquisite dairy, delivering her soul tent reader has dwelt with delight, and in a series of pithy aphorisms, bright as which seems fresher and more charming the little flames in Mr. Biglow's pastoral, whenever we come back to it. There that danced about the chaney on the is no danger of arousing any controversy dresser;" and the party in the parlor in saying that the works of her first pe- of the “Rainbow" discussing the eviriod, the Scenes of Clerical Life, dences for “ghos'es ;”
ghos'es ;" or the family “ Adam Bede, Silas Marner," and conclaves in which the affairs of the the “ Mill on the Floss,” have the un- Tulliver family were discussed from so mistakable mark of high genius. They many and such admirably contrasted are something for which it is simply out points of view. Where shall we find a of the question to find any substitute. more delightful circle, or quainter manStrike them out of English literature, ifestations of human character, in beings and we feel that there would be a gap grotesque, misshapen, and swathed in not to be filled up ; a distinct vein of old prejudices, like the mossy trees in an thought and feeling unrepresented ; a old-fashioned orchard, which, for all characteristic and delightful type of so- their vagaries of growth, are yet full of sap and capable of bearing mellow and sonal appreciation of those qualities. toothsome fruit? “ It was pleasant to But I should certainly despair of giving Mr. Tryan,” as we are told in “ Janet's any account of the pleasure which one Repentance, to listen to the simple receives from that famous conflict of chat of the old man-to walk in the rustic wits. Why are we charmed by shade of the incomparable orchard and Ben Winthorp's retort to the parish hear the story of the crops yielded by clerk : “It's your inside as isn't right the red-streaked apple-tree, and the made for music; it's no better nor a quite embarrassing plentifulness of the hollow stalk ;" and the statement that summer pears—to drink in the sweet this “ unflinching frankness was regardevening breath of the garden as they sated by the company as the most piquant in the alcove, and so, for a short inter- form of joke ;" or by the landlord's inval, to feel the strain of his pastoral genious remarks upon the analogy betask relaxed.” Our enjoyment is anal- tween a power of smelling cheeses and ogous to Mr. Tryan's. We are soothed perceiving the supernatural ; or by that by the atmosphere of the old-world quaint stumble into something surpriscountry life, where people, no doubt, ing to the speaker himself by its apparhad as many troubles as ours, but ent resemblance to witty repartee, when troubles which, because they were dif- the same person says to the farrier : ferent, seem more bearable to our imag- “You're a doctor, I reckon, though ination. We half wish that we could go you're only a cow-doctor ; for a fly's a back to the old days of stage-coaches fly, though it may be a horse-fly?'' and wagons and shambling old curates in One can understand at a proper dis“ Brutus wigs,” preaching to slumber- tance how a clever man comes to say a ous congregations enshrouded in high- brilliant thing, and it is still more easy backed pews, contemplating as little the to understand how he can say a thoradvent of railways as of a race of clergy- oughly silly thing, and, therefore, how men capable of going to prison upon a he can simulate stupidity. But there is question of ritual.
something mysterious in the power posSo far, indeed, it can hardly be said sessed by a few great humorists of conthat George Eliot is unique. She has verting themselves for the nonce into been approached, if she has not been that peculiar condition of muddle-headsurpassed, by other writers in her idyllic edness dashed with grotesque flashes of effects. But there is something less common-sense which is natural to a easily paralleled in the peculiar vein of half-educated mind. It is less difficult humor which is the essential comple- to draw either a perfect circle or a purement of the more tender passages. Mrs. ly arbitrary line than to see what will be Poyser is necessary to balance the so- the proportion of the regular figure on lemnity of Dinah Morris. Silas Mar- some queer, lop-sided, and imperfectlyner would lose half his impressiveness if reflecting surface. And these quaint he were not in contrast with the inimi- freaks of rustic intelligence seem to be table party in the Rainbow” parlor. rags and tatters of what would make wit Omit the few pages in which their ad- and reason in a cultivated mind, but mirable conversation is reported, and when put together in this grotesque kathe whole harmony of the book would leidoscopic confusion suggests, not simbe altered. The change would be as ple nonsense, but a ludicrous parody of fatal as to strike out a figure in some
To reproduce the effect, you perfect composition, where the most tri- have not simply to lower the activity of Aing accessory may really be an essen- the reasoning machine, but to put it totial part of the whole design. It might gether on some essential plan, so as to throw some light upon George Eliot's bring out a new set of combinations dispeculiar power if we could fairly analyze tantly recalling the correct order. We the charm of that little masterpiece. require not a new defect of logic, but a Psychologists are very fond of attempt- new logical structure. ing to define the nature of wit and hu- There is no answer to this as to any mor. Hitherto they have not been very other such problems. It is enough to successful, though, of course, their fail- take note of the fact that George Eliot ure cannot be due to any want of per
to any want of per- possessed a vein of humor, of which it